What Would a Compassionate Society Look Like?

Compassion is an essentially human quality. If you doubt it, read the story below and see if you are able to remain unmoved by it[1].

“I rode to the address and honked the horn. After waiting a few minutes I honked again. Since this was going to be the last ride of my shift, I thought about just driving away, but instead I put the car in park and walked up to the front door. ‘Just a minute’ answered the frail elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause the door opened. A small woman in her nineties stood in front of me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillow-box hat. By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked like no one had lived in it for years. The furniture were covered with sheets, there was no clock on the wall, no knickknacks or utensils anywhere. ‘Would you carry my bag to the car’ she said. I took her suitcase to the car and then return to assist the woman. She took my arm and we walked slowly across the curb. She kept thanking me for my kindness. ‘Oh, it’s nothing’ I told her ‘I just try to treat my passenger as I wish my mother to be treated.’ ‘Oh, you are such a good man’ she responded. When we got to the cab she gave me an address and asked ‘Could you drive me through downtown?’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘it’s not the shortest way to go’ and she answered quickly ‘I don’t mind,’ she said, ‘I am in no hurry. I am on my way to a hospice.’ I looked in the rear view mirror and her eyes were glistening. ‘I don’t have any family left.’ she continued in a soft voice ‘The doctor said I don’t have very long.’ I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. ‘What route would you like me to take?’ I asked. For the next two hours we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she once worked as an elevator operator. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she danced as a girl. Sometimes she would ask me to slow down in front of a building or a corner and we would just sit staring into the darkness. At the first hint of the sun creasing the horizon she suddenly said ‘I am tired now. Let’s go.’ So we drove to the address she gave me. It was a low building – a convalescent home. Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair. ‘How much do you owe you?’ she asked reaching into her purse. ‘Oh, nothing.’ I said. ‘But you have to make a living’ she answered. ‘There are other passengers.’ I responded. Almost without thinking I bent and gave her a hug. She held on to me tightly. ‘You gave an old woman a little moment of joy.’ She said. ‘Thank you.’ I squeezed her hand and walked into the morning light. Behind me a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life. I did not pick up any more passengers that day. I drove aimlessly lost in thoughts. For the rest of the day I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the longer route or honked and drove away? On a quick review I don’t think I have done anything more important in my life.”

While compassion is a universal human quality it does not seem to be expressed in our culture and in the functioning of our modern societies.